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Tips & Tricks

Enabling Star Ratings in the iOS 10.2 Music app

One of the more controversial changes in Apple’s iOS 10 Music app was the elimination of the longstanding star-based rating system for music tracks. It’s unclear whether this was just inadvertently left out in the redesign or whether Apple felt that the new love/dislike system was enough — but clearly somebody at Apple got the message, as the ability to use star ratings has quietly returned in iOS 10.2.

It’s still hidden by default, but if you’re an iTunes power user who has gotten used to being able to rate your tracks on a sliding scale — a feature that’s been available in iTunes and on the iPod since its very inception — you’ll be happy to know that a quick trip into the Music section of your Settings app provides an option to toggle the feature back on.

While Apple has brought the star rating feature back, it’s moved it into the track menu, rather than hiding it behind the artwork as it was in iOS 9. Tapping and holding on a track, or tapping the ellipsis button in the bottom right corner of the “Now Playing” screen will bring up the menu, and if you’ve enabled star ratings in your settings, a “Rate Song…” option should now appear there. Ratings should also once again sync back to your iTunes library via direct sync, Apple Music, or iTunes Match, however this doesn’t replace the love/dislike system — if you’re an Apple Music user, star ratings won’t affect the recommendations you see in the “For You” section.

Using Double Tap to Control Play/Pause on AirPods

Apple’s wireless AirPods automatically pause music playback when one or both of the buds are removed from your ears during use. But if you’d prefer to control play/pause with touch controls without having to remove AirPods from your ears, Apple has given users a way to do so. While your AirPods are connected, go to Settings > Bluetooth on your iOS device and touch the “i” to access the information screen for your AirPods. On that screen, you’ll be able to change a number of settings, including the Double-Tap controls. AirPods are set by default to control Siri with a firm double tap — here, you can switch the setting to Play/Pause instead.

In switching this setting, users are giving up immediate double tap access to Siri. However, that tradeoff is somewhat mitigated if you’re using an iPhone 6s or later, or a 9.7” iPad Pro. Those devices allow anytime use of “Hey Siri,” which means it can still be easy and convenient to access Siri hands-free, as long as you’ve allowed use of “Hey Siri” in Settings — and as long as you’re close enough to your iPhone. Some users of the newest Apple devices may find this option makes more sense.

Keeping the Christmas Tree Lights On with HomeKit

If you’ve got more than a couple of lights tied into your HomeKit system, you’ve probably gotten accustomed to using Siri commands like “Turn off the lights” when you’re leaving home, going to bed, or just otherwise want to de-illuminate your home. Of course, in that case, this time of year you’re probably going to be tempted to plug your Christmas tree or other holiday lights into a HomeKit-compatible plug so that you can control them using Siri and HomeKit automation. It’s a great idea, but suddenly you might find yourself avoiding Siri commands to turn all of your lights off at home, or in a given room if you still want to leave the Christmas lights on.

Showing Holiday Memories in iOS 10 Photos

If you’ve got a few years of photos available on your iPhone, the new Memories feature in the iOS 10 Photos app can be a great way to go back and relive significant events from past years. Photos will go back and automatically scan through your photo collection for groupings of photos by people and places and put them in collections, and Apple has even put the intelligence in place to figure out holidays — based on your home country — and organize your Memories accordingly by paying closer attention to photos around those times of year, and putting appropriate titles on them.

If you’re not seeing holiday memories and you think you should, check the setting for Holiday Events under Photos & Camera in the iOS Settings app. Also be sure that your regional setting, found under Settings, General, Language & Region is set to the correct country — which holidays are selected are based on this setting.

Working with Threads in iOS 10 Mail

Apple has made some nice changes to the way that message threads are handled in the iOS 10 Mail app, replacing the prior message sub-list with an inline conversation view that users of alternative mail apps and platforms like Gmail will find far more familiar. In addition to presenting all of the messages in a single threaded view, in the Mail app now includes all of the messages in your entire mail account by default, rather than only those in the current mailbox or folder.

Of course, if you don’t like this fully threaded view there are still options to turn it off. The Mail section in the main iOS Settings app now includes a Threading section which, in addition to the global “Organize by Thread” option found in prior iOS versions, now also includes settings to sort threads in reverse chronological order, as well as turn off “Complete Threads” if you want to revert the pre-iOS 10 behavior of only showing messages from the current mailbox/folder in each thread. In the latter case you’ll still get the newer threaded view — there’s no way to go back to the old hierarchical message list design — but any messages that are not contained in the same mailbox/folder as the current message won’t be displayed.

Optimizing Music Storage in iOS 10

Prior to iOS 10, your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch would try to automatically maintain a minimum amount of free space by removing unnecessary files from local storage under certain conditions. Included in this list of “unnecessary” files were things that Apple reasonably deemed could be re-obtained from the cloud — including items in your iCloud Music Library. Naturally, many users found this inconvenient, and Apple has obviously heard their cries — in iOS 10 you can now either turn this feature off entirely or choose to ensure that a minimum amount of music remains on your device.

You can find all of this under a new Optimize Storage setting in the Music section of the iOS Settings app. There, you’ll find a switch that can be used to toggle the feature on; when it’s enabled, a list of minimum capacity settings will also appear. The settings will allow you to set the minimum amount of music that will be kept on your device when space runs low. Selecting None here is the equivalent of the standard behavior from prior iOS versions.

Turning off Read Receipts for individual conversations in iOS 10

There’s one other small but useful new feature in the iOS 10 Messages app that most people may have missed amidst of all the glitz and glamour of the shiny bubbles, stickers, and fireworks effects: you can now turn off Read Receipts for individual conversations. This is a huge boon if you like sharing read status with close friends and family but don’t necessarily want everybody to see when their messages to you have been read.

Duplicating a Photo in the iOS Photos app

One of the smaller features that Apple quietly snuck into iOS 9.3 is the ability to create a duplicate of any given photo or set of photos in the iOS Photos app. This can be done by selecting the photo(s) you want to duplicate, bringing up the iOS Share Sheet to see the sharing options, and looking for the “Duplicate” option in the lower actions row.

This creates an exact copy of the image, which can be useful if you want to apply edits while still keeping the original handy. As an added bonus, however, using the “Duplicate” option on a Live Photo will provide a choice between duplicating the Live Photo in its original form, or duplicating it as a still photo.

Choosing preferred Driving + Transit options in iOS 10 Maps

In addition to a whole new design, the Maps app in iOS 10 also adds more control over route options for driving or transit directions. If you scroll down to the bottom of the list of available routes when getting directions in Maps, you’ll see a link for Driving Options or Transit Options, depending on which mode you’re in.

Tapping on Driving Options will bring up switches that allow you to avoid toll roads or highways along your route, while tapping Transit Options allows you to select which types of transit vehicles you would like to include in your route, with options available for Bus, Subway/LRT, Commuter Rail, and Ferry. These options can also be found in the Maps section of the iOS Settings app, under Driving & Navigation and Transit.

Enabling animations in iOS 10 Messages

The new iMessage animations in iOS 10 are a lot of fun, but if you find that they’re not actually working, you’ll want to check your iOS Accessibility settings. After iOS 7 debuted its “parallax effect,” many iPhone users found it distracting or nauseating and decided to disable it by turning on Reduce Motion under Accessibility settings.

If you had this setting enabled before, it stays enabled after you update to iOS 10 — and as part of reducing motion, it also logically turns off any motion-related effects in the iOS 10 Messages app, such as animated bubbles and background animations. With Reduce Motion enabled, in fact, you not only won’t be able to receive or see these effects, but you can’t send iMessages using the effects either — pressing and holding on the Send button will have no effect at all, and Apple doesn’t make it particularly obvious that these features are dependent on the Reduce Motion setting.

Taking pictures and saving to photo library in iOS 10 Messages

Apple’s done some cool new things with the Messages app in iOS 10, including adding a live preview for taking photos right within a conversation. If you’ve used this feature, however, you may have noticed that the photo you capture doesn’t actually save to the iPhone’s Photo Library — it’s only inserted into the current conversation. While this can be desirable in some cases, if you’re taking a photo that you might want to keep around for later, you can actually bring up the full iPhone Camera by swiping from left to right and tapping on the Camera button that will appear.

This also has the advantage of giving you a full-screen camera view, which users of smaller-screened iPhones will certainly appreciate, compared to the much smaller live preview window.

Syncing iTunes Store videos with older iPods

Although many users are likely focused mostly on HD videos these days, Apple has still been taking steps recently to increase the quality of the SD video content in the iTunes Store, pushing the envelope beyond what older traditional iPods can handle. If you’re still using an iPod classic or iPod nano for storing and watching videos, you may start running into an error message that “high-quality SD video is not compatible with this iPod” when you try to sync or transfer your videos.

Managing iOS device backups in iTunes

While iCloud backups provide a certain degree of convenience, many users will quickly go beyond the free 5GB of storage that Apple provides. Unless you’re already paying for more iCloud storage, or willing to shell out for a larger plan just for backups, you’ll be happy to know that iTunes still provides a handy alternative to keep your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch backed up to your Mac or PC, and in fact even has a key advantage over iCloud for transferring data to a new device.

Sorting iOS Notifications Chronologically

Although you’ve been able to set your notifications to sort by date since the Notification Center first debuted back in iOS 5, all this option actually did was sort your apps by the date the last notification was received, grouping each notification under app-specific headings. Unfortunately, this didn’t provide an entirely chronological view of your notifications, since apps that had received several notifications over the course of a day would still have those older notifications grouped with it, above whichever app had displayed the second-most recent notification, and so forth.

Bringing up Wallet from the iPhone lock screen

In addition to renaming Passbook to the more appropriate name of Wallet, iOS 9 now makes it even easier to access your Apple Pay and other cards while your iPhone is locked. Simply double-tap the home button, and it will come up and be ready to go. Of course, you’ll still need to authenticate Apple Pay transactions using Touch ID, but the rest of your cards will be readily accessible for scanning without having to unlock your iPhone and open the Wallet app.

Annotating PDFs and images in iOS 9 Mail

A subtle new feature that’s been added to the built-in Mail app in iOS 9 allows you to mark up PDF and image file attachments. With the built-in markup editor you can add lines, shapes, arrows, and even drop in your signature. As an added bonus, if you’ve created signatures in Preview on your Mac they’ll be automatically synced via iCloud (providing you’re signed into the same iCloud account on both devices) and available to use in the markup editor.

Adding links to Reminders in iOS 9

With iOS 9 you can now create reminders that are linked to content in other applications, such as a web page, email, contact, conversation in messages, or location in maps. Even better, many third-party apps also provide support for the same feature, allowing you to set reminders directly from those apps and then link back into where you were in the app, such as editing an image in Pixelmator, being reminded about a reading item in Pocket, or saving and pulling up a calculation in PCalc. Many of these links will even work on OS X El Capitan, provided you have the corresponding app installed on your Mac.

Enabling iCloud Drive app in iOS 9

Although Apple first debuted iCloud Drive in iOS 8 last year, it was implemented merely as a hidden file system designed to be used only within apps specifically designed to support it; unlike on OS X Mavericks, there was no iOS-based option to directly browse through your iCloud drive, making it a completely impractical replacement for something like Dropbox or Google Drive. The good news is that Apple has opened this up with iOS 9 by adding a standalone, built-in iCloud Drive app, providing direct access to everything you have stored in iCloud Drive, along with some basic file organization and sharing features.

Going back to a four-digit passcode in iOS 9

One of the smaller security features touted by Apple in the iOS 9 update was the move to requiring six-digit passcodes, rather than the default four-digit option that’s been around since the iPhone first debuted. While complex alphanumeric passwords have been available in iOS for years, most users found them to be too much trouble, so Apple reasoned that going from a four to a six-digit passcode was a more sensible compromise for improving security, particularly in an era of Touch ID devices, where the passcode rarely needs to be entered anyway.

The good news, however, is that while Apple encourages people to use a six-digit passcode by presenting it as the default option when setting up a new iOS device or even updating to iOS 9, you’re by no means limited to this option, and in fact iOS 9 now offers four different passcode/password configurations, rather than the four-digit code vs. password choice from prior versions. The option is a bit more hidden than it used to be, however; if you visit the Touch ID & Passcode section in the iOS Settings app, you’ll notice the former “Simple Passcode” option is nowhere to be found. Instead, a small blue link appears when you go to change your passcode, offering you the ability to switch to one of the other options: Custom Alphanumeric Code, Custom Numeric Code, 4-Digit Numeric Code, or 6-Digit Numeric Code (note that the current option isn’t shown here, as that’s what you’re already using).

Tapping on one of the options will change the passcode or password setting screen to use that format, so you can return to a four-digit passcode if that’s what you prefer, or if you want to get even more secure but don’t want to deal with a fully alphanumeric password, iOS 9 also offers the option of a “Custom Numeric Code” — you’ll get the numeric keypad instead of the full keyboard for passcode entry, but you can enter a string of numbers as long as you like.

Engaging Low Power Mode in iOS 9

The new “Low Power Mode” in iOS 9 is a pretty handy way to extend your battery life when you’re on the go; by throttling down your device’s CPU and suspending all background activity it lets you gain two to three extra hours in a pinch. You can turn it on manually by going into Settings, Battery or your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch will offer you the option to turn it on as part of the warnings you get when your battery drains to 20 percent, and again when it hits 10 percent (assuming it’s not already on). When Low Power Mode is engaged, the standard battery icon will turn yellow to remind you that you’re in this mode.

You can also leave your device in Low Power Mode when charging it back up, however it gets shut off automatically once you reach an 80 percent charge. You’ll get a lock screen notification when this happens, and if you like, you can re-engage Low Power Mode right from the lock screen by swiping right to left and tapping “Enable Again.” This can be useful if you’re in a hurry for your iPhone to charge up, as leaving it in Low Power Mode will let your device charge faster by consuming less power while it’s charging.

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